Society 19:30 01/05/2015

Witness of Operation Ring, Doctor Gevorg Grigoryan: Azerbaijanis tried to appropriate Karabakh leaving it without Armenians’s interview with Karabakh war participant, head of surgical department of Masis hospital, Gevorg Grigoryan

- You are a witness of the Operation Ring, you have seen all that with your own eyes in Getashen. Share, please, your memories, what really happened there?

- There were the surnames of the freedom fighters and participants of the self-defense battles of the village who the “defenders of the law” wanted to seize. The Turkish slaughterers had taken the village under their control and taking advantage of the connivance of the Soviet troops they looted with impunity everything they saw: property, money, cars, livestock and jewelry. This went on for a few days with the village gradually getting empty. Everyone tried to group in the houses in the center, often a few families together under one roof. The moral and psychological situation was critical: one could hear children crying and women howling incoherently and hopelessly everywhere. The result of the nervous shocks was the display of various pathological phenomena of many people: high blood pressure, heart distress, neurotic spasm, etc. We the doctors ran out of the houses and helped them how we could.  

The journalist Vardan Hovhannisyan had been beaten and I had bound him up. He went up to the inhabitants in the queue in the naïve thought that as an injured inhabitant of the village he could freely get into the helicopter and leave Getashen. But the pack appeared to get active for they noticed him and got ready to ‘meet him.’ Vardan came back to the village but on May 6 he was arrested. The inhabitants walked towards the takeoff area carrying on their shoulders what they were able to. I was going in one of the cars inside the village to take the more helpless ones to the helicopters. By May 7 the village was almost empty. Some of the inhabitants had burned down their houses not to let the Turks defile their home; the hospital got the same fate. Along with one of the last groups of the inhabitants, we also went to the takeoff area getting ready to go home. The soldiers’ behavior was just disgusting: they made us squat with the hands on napes; they shot into the air if they wanted to draw attention, they dragged us and swore. And those were the Soviet soldiers and officers who just resembled occupants.

- Why did still-Soviet Azerbaijan need to displace the Armenians from their historical dwelling places?

- The USSR was really a giant built on artificial basis which tried to merge nations of different cultures, faiths, traditions, lifestyle and languages. However, certain aversion between the Turks and the Armenians retained especially given the fact that the witnesses of the massacres organized by the Turks were still alive and thus the historical facts were passed down from generation to generation. The policy conducted by Azerbaijan in Karabakh and Nakhijevan was not only unfavorable to the Armenians but it was also marked with Armenophobia: the offices were assigned only with Baku’s approval; the roads taking to Armenian-populated villages lay through settlements populated with Turks; the Armenian studies were highly limited at schools; and the overall atmosphere made the local Armenian population remain under the burden of concerns of making the daily bread rather than thinking about spiritual rebirth. Stalin’s arbitrary decision naturally added to that: Karabakh was granted to Azerbaijan. And emptying the territories from the Armenians was what the supporters of the Great Turan had always been yearning for. The Sumgait massacres and the right of permissiveness finally gave freedom to the Turks and they tried to appropriate Karabakh once and for all, yet without the Armenians. 

- The Azerbaijani side often plays on the topic of emptying the Karabakhi villages from the Armenians to misinform the public by calling those events as “a fight against the armed detachments.” Still the Azerbaijani OMON officers took you a hostage despite you being a doctor. How did that happen?

- The long term Chief Physician of Getashen Hospital, Sargis Hakobkyokhvyan, Valerik Khachatryan and I were arrested by a Russian soldier and were given to the Turks while getting into the helicopter. 

If the head of the state Gorbachev took the liberty of characterizing the participants of the national movement as separatists and bandits, didn’t that unbind the ties of Baku’s hands and ideological macerations? Any Armenian who was not registered in Karabakh was considered to be a violator of the passport regime with all its consequences. All the liberty fighters who were on the territory of Karabakh were presented as ‘fighters’ who must be eliminated without court or trial. Even being from Getashen did not grant the doctor with the right to move in his native village, let alone us, the doctors who had arrived from Yerevan. We were arrested and sent to Gyanja prison. We were released only thanks to the intervention of our republic and many international organizations which protested against the illegal imprisonment of the doctors.

- The Azerbaijani propaganda often tried to free itself from the responsibility of the Operation Ring pointing the Soviet central authorities as such. Was that really so?

- No matter how hard the Azerbaijani authorities try to wash their hands off the Operation Ring, it is evident to everyone that the horrible idea was grist to Azerbaijan’s mill and it’s spiritual father was born in that environment. They benefitted from emptying the territories from the Armenians and trusting in that method they attempted to have Russia pull their chestnuts out of the fire. And who was howling like a hound behind the Soviet troops if not the blood-thirsty Turks who even in the 20th century are not able to leave looting and raiding which are considered to be their traditional craft?

Of course, it is impossible to clarify the things in short. I do not grant myself with the right to describe the events I did not really witness. I remained in Getashen for months but I returned to Yerevan in March 1991 because the doctor Valeri Khachatryan substituted me there. I once again arrived in Getashen on May 3, 1991 with a group of horsemen from Shahumyan as Getashen was in a complete blockade and even the Soviet military helicopter was prohibited to land in Getashen. 

The Operation Ring reached its peak on April 30 when the Soviet troops attacked Getashen with tanks and helicopters. The Turk OMON officers hauled after them with the only aim to loot and maraud. Colonel Mashkov was leading the operation. 

I say all this based on the numerous testimonies of the eyewitnesses. But getting into Getashen I saw the village that was supposed to be emptied from the Armenians being actually doomed. A part of the people crowded in the center were from Martunashen as it was already robbed and burnt down. A tank stood there aiming to spread horror and it should be noted that it reached its aim. The inhabitants were heartsick, demoralized, and panic-stricken and were waiting for news all the time as if hoping for a miracle that the situation might change and it might be possible to remain in Getashen. But everything had already been decided by the higher authorities in Moscow: the village was to be emptied from the Armenians and passed to Azerbaijan’s authority. Military helicopters landed in upper Getashen and took the population to Stepanakert group after group. The takeoff area was surrounded by troops. Turkish OMON officers, policemen, prosecution employees with papers in their hands were running here and there like hungry jackals.  

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